Young people recently in contact with psychiatric services are 12 times more likely than other young people to attempt suicide


Driving down suicidal behaviour in young people has long been a major target for public health professionals. This new study from researchers in Denmark will help inform this important work.

The case control study used data from the Danish national register (403,431 in total) to assess the risk of suicide attempts after contact with a psychiatric hospital. They analysed 72,765 patients between 1983 and 1989 and found that 3,465 cases of attempted suicide occurred in participants between their 10th birthday and the end of 2005, when they would be no older than 22.

They defined contact with a psychiatric department as:

  • Use of psychiatric services in a psychiatric hospital units (including hospitalisation)
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Emergency psychiatric services
  • All other day and night services

They excluded patients who had been admitted to psychiatric wards on the day of an attempted suicide and suicide attempts made on the first day of admission to a psychiatric department.

The study did not identify completed suicides, or suicide attempts that did not require contact with medical services.

Here’s what they found:

  • Patients who had contact with a psychiatric department were more than 12 times more likely to have had a suicide attempt than those who had no contact (p<0.0001)
  • The risk of suicide attempt peaks immediately after discharge, but the increased risk continues for many years after discharge
  • Patients with personality disorders, depression and substance use disorders have the highest risk
  • Young people who come from families with parental income in the lowest third have a significantly higher risk of suicide attempt

The authors concluded:

The findings in this study highlight the need for psychopathology assessment in every case of attempted suicide. This study also shows that well-known risk factors such as contact with a psychiatric department do not affect all individuals in the same way. Individuals from families with low socio-economic status had the highest risk. This suggests that the presence of factors influencing both vulnerability and resiliency, e.g., family level of socio-economic status, needs to be included in the assessment.

Christiansen E, Larsen KJ. Young people’s risk of suicide attempts after contact with a psychiatric department – a nested case-control design using Danish register data. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2012 Jan;53(1):16-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02405.x. Epub 2011 May 12. [PubMed abstract]

If you need help

If you need help and support now and you live in the UK or the Republic of Ireland, please call the Samaritans on 116 123.

If you live elsewhere, we recommend finding a local Crisis Centre on the IASP website.

We also highly recommend that you visit the Connecting with People: Staying Safe resource.

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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